I was lucky enough to grow up in a household full of love and steady, positive encouragement. My parents were a drop dead gorgeous pair who despite outward appearances had their share of struggles like everybody else. But, in our household, the children mattered. The kids' best interests came first whether it was scraping together enough tuition for all three of us to go to Catholic school, watching us compete athletically, perform on stage, or give a speech in high school. They thought their three kids could accomplish anything they set their minds to and told us we could. As a result, I grew up thinking I could take the bull by the horns and win. And often I did.
I wasn't always so confident. In kindergarten I went cheerfully to school everyday, took in all the conversations and activities surrounding me, but never uttered a word the entire year. I wouldn't even tell the teacher I didn't like the pulp in the orange juice or the nuts in my cookies at snack time. One day I mustered the courage to talk and touched my teacher's elbow. Shockingly, Mrs. Higby turned and yelled, "Why can't you speak up like normal children?". That only served to make this stubborn and determined 5-year-old dig her heels in even more. I vowed not to speak a word. And I didn't. Not even at recess. I would swing and play but always as observer. Not a word was spoken. Ever.
The following year my parents decided to transfer me to the parochial school. As I was walking up the steps to the first grade entrance, loving my new uniform and happy to be going to school as usual, my mom held my hand and told me that no one here knew I was shy and I could be anything I wanted to be here. Apparently, I took her words to heart; the second week into the school year I prided myself on getting scolded for talking in class by my beloved teacher, Sister Fidelia.
In high school, my innate shyness persisted but mom, who had no psychology degree but was more skilled than most in this area, gently encouraged me, pushed me beyond my comfort zone and as social psychologist Amy Cuddy says, she had me "fake it until I made it". I'll never forget the day that I rode into the Bishop Ludden High gymnasium atop a float and gave a speech for Vice President of Student Council in front of the student body of 1200. Not only did I give the speech, I won the election. What I didn't know at the time but learned long after, my mom was in the hallway outside the gym quietly crying as her once mute daughter had a loud and clear voice.
Though both my parents were taken way too young, I just want to publicly thank my genius mother for prodding, encouraging, listening and otherwise molding me into the chatterbox I am today. The skills I learned while being the observer early on have served me well in life though. I am inclined to think before I speak. More people should try doing it!
Dee Antil is a multifaceted woman much like the stones she uses in her artisan jewelry designs. She has worn many hats from nurse anesthetist to single mother, founder of non-profit art co-op, amateur photographer, orchid grower, exercise/nutrition enthusiast. She also loves design, fashion, and the sea.